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November 29 2012

*Editor’s Note: Welcome Shawn Smucker as he shares his first post for Deeper Church. I’ve been following his writing for some time at After you read his piece here, spend some time at his place today.

I spend three solid days and nights there, waiting for her to die. I go home only because I need to shower and, besides, I feel bad for my wife, pregnant and watching the four kids by herself. But she shushes my apologies and says, “Grandma won’t be here much longer.”

And all eight of my aunts and uncles return to Pennsylvania, and nearly all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren show their face from time to time. Usually there are thirty or forty of us there at night, all sitting in the largest room our aunt’s house has to offer. Some sit on the floor, others sprawl on the folding chairs. My grandmother sits in her armchair, eyes open, barely breathing. This atmosphere, being surrounded by her family, the singing: it’s as close to heaven as she’s ever been.

Songs spring up out of the silent spaces, old hymns and gospel songs, and I realize that somehow I know the words even though I can’t remember the last time I sang them.

What will it be when we get over yonder
And join the throng upon the glassy sea?
To greet our loved ones and crown Christ forever,
Oh, this is just what Heaven means to me.

But eventually I realize I cannot spend my entire life waiting for someone to die, no matter how much I wish I could be there when she leaves, so I look in on her one last time and then I get on with my life. I text my dad to see how things are going. I stop by a few times each day, peek my head in to make sure.

Seventy-two hours later, two in the morning, my phone buzzes on the side table. A text message. She is gone. I creep out of bed and get dressed in the dark and drive through bright stars to a warm house full of people who gathered for one last time. More songs. Tears.

An understanding sits there in the living room, like a long-lost cousin, that these are moments of simple faith. When someone I love is dying, I don’t find myself arguing fine points of theology. Doctrine takes a back seat to wonder and amazement at this ending of a good life, at the way the soul and body separate. I even sense within me the subtle traces of an unfamiliar longing to follow her into the unknown. I drive home at 3am.

The next afternoon my wife comes out of the bathroom with a strange look on her face.

“I’m bleeding,” she says. “A lot.” So we go to the doctor and they do a sonogram and there’s no heartbeat and a lot of empty space inside of her that should be crowded by a fourteen-week-old baby.

“I’m so sorry,” the tech says, handing my wife a box of Kleenex. We stare at each other in the dark room, and the empty space on the screen spreads and somehow lodges inside of me. And I think of the hymns I sang as Grandma passed.

A country where no twilight shadows deepen,
Unending day where night shall never be.
A city where no storm clouds ever gather,
Now this is just what Heaven means to me.

And on the day after my Grandmother dies, and on the day before her viewing, my wife miscarries. It follows the progression of birth and takes a few hours. I gather what was passed, as if sifting through all of the pain and disappointment, trying to find something, anything. And I bury what she passed in a box, under a pile of large rocks in the woods where we will soon live. On the box is the word HOPE.

In these difficult times I realize this is the core of my faith: hope. I realize that regardless of my doubts and uncertainty, my anger and questions (and they are many, and they are still there), a small seed of belief exists, sometimes dormant, sometimes stirring. I find an unexpected love for this fellowship of believers and yearn for the moment when I can push through the veil.

There are things I forget when normal life overwhelms me with static. Yet in that empty darkness of grief, surrounded by those who love me, the static fades, and the hint of a subtle melody emerges.


  1. What a hard, hard time. I think I would have been struggling with the why, and you were out putting hope to rest and hearing a melody. This is what faith in action must look like. Blessed assurance.

    • Thank you for reading, Anna. If it is faith in action, then it is of less sturdy stuff than I have grown up believing faith should be. But I hope you’re right.

  2. Beautiful words. These moments of simple faith.

  3. Oh, Shawn. I’m so sorry for your losses. That last sentence says it all.

    • Thank you, Leigh. I know you’ve been through the ringer, too. Grace and peace to you during this season of waiting.

  4. Genevieve

    We had a time like this, when I had cancer, my 3 year old lay in a coma with a 50/50 chance and I miscarried. I remember thinking, He wouldn’t. But I was reading Job, so I knew that was a foolish statement. Oddly I’ve never cried nor begged so hard for deliverance but then again I’ve also never felt Him grieving with me before either. Thank you for sharing this dark/light vignette with us. It resonates.

    • Oh, my, Genevieve. You know what the darkness looks like, from the inside. Recently my wife and I have been exploring various ways that we can enter the fight against human trafficking, and as we hear stories from inside that darkness, I find myself thinking something similar.

      “He wouldn’t let this happen. Why does he let this happen?”

      But as you point out, there is darkness and there is light.

  5. Miriam

    Dear Shawn:
    We have communicated in the past. We emailed back and forth as you were giving me encouragement about writing my book.

    I have had the privilege of taking 7 Women, 7 Stories with your Aunt Anne. So we (the class) were on the fringes of knowing your families pending loss. I can only imagine the singing that is taking place in Heaven with your Grandmother leading the choruses.
    I have made several Heavenly deposits myself….a husband, a son, two precious grandchildren. two sister in laws and both my parents.

    My friend Kate Zook posted your Blog on Facebook. When I read about you and your wife losing your precious baby, my heart broke for you both as I understand your pain. My granddaughter was only 24 weeks (8-19-09) when she was stillborn and my grandson, just this past March 21, was 28 weeks when our daughter delivered him stillborn. Please know that I am praying for you and your families healing process. I understand the doubt, uncertainty, anger and the questions. These past eight months have been really hard after our second loss.

    I wanted to let you know about a special place in Intercourse called The Lancaster Garden of Hope. It is a beautiful garden with four memory walls where you can place a plaque in memory of your baby. It can simply says: Baby Smucker and the date of it’s stillbirth or if you gave it a name use it. Here is the link to the website: Each June we have a Memorial Service where we read each baby’s name and release ballons. The reason I am saying we is I am on the Board for GOH.

    I am coming full circle in my not understanding why my precious daughter’s arms are still empty when her friends have several babies. I don’t understand the “whys” but God is still good and I have the reassurance my grand babies are in Heaven and one day I will spend eternity with them.

    Blessings to you and your sweet wife,

    • Thank you Miriam for your kind words. I will talk to Maile about it.

  6. Yes, a hundred times over. I lost a baby at the beginning of the second trimester several years ago, and your last few sentences are exactly my experience, too. We’ve gone on to have a baby since then – a tremendously fearful, emotionally traumatic experience for me – but since her birth I’ve realized exactly what you said about hope. For me, hope is most brilliant in darkness. It’s just that sometimes the contrast between its light and the darkness around me is so dramatic that the light hurts my eyes and I’m afraid of it.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Heidi. Hope is rather bright, isn’t it, especially to the untrained eye?

  7. Shawn,
    I too, have lost a baby to miscarriage. The doctor thought my blue tupperware container did not hold my baby. he thought he/she was still inside. So grief sat on a shelf as we held onto hope for two more weeks. Even as the technician asked if we wanted a boy or girl I gripped hope. Thankful to be part of a wonderful miracle. And moments later we were told there was no baby. I had to work through anger, through bitterness, but when I did I the Lord waited. He was there all the time.

    Having had many losses in my life. My mom when I was 16, my dad when I was 24, and at 30 my sister who disappeared never to be seen, missing since 1982. Still, I know that God loves me. He really loves me. And it was in those times of grief and pain that I saw him the clearest. I pray for you and your loss drenched with questions. May I share how God comforted my heart when I was tormented with wondering how my sister’s last moments of her life were spent? God whispered to me, He was with her. God knew that’s what I needed to rest. I am certain that he carried her to heaven when she took her final breath.

    Thank you for sharing your touching story. I pray it blesses countless others.

    • I’m so sorry, Anne, that you had to go through these things. They do leave us rather marked. Your comments remind me very much of a Brennan Manning quote I recently stumbled upon:

      “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

  8. Beautifully written, Shawn. And I think your faith is plenty sturdy, friend. You are honest, real, open, searching and somehow manage to hold onto love. That’s what I would call faith and what I read about in the pages of scripture, too. I am sorry for both losses and send you and Maile my love and my prayers. There are dark mysteries about which we know so very little. Yet somehow, the light penetrates even there. Blessings to you.

  9. PreetamDas Kirtana

    Sat nam, Shawn,

    I am so frequently awed by What you allow to come thru: full humanity: raw, broken, beautiful, faithful, resistant, frightened and still somehow, by the Grace of the One, hopeful. I am so very sorry for the loss in your family. I am well acquainted with grief…and, as such, know that most often the very best, the most helpful thing i can do is remind you how much you are loved personally and authentically by God, me, your family and this family of readers you’ve co-created and that you and your family are in my prayers. The lyrics to the old, i think, Dottie Rambo song resonate as i’ve recently in-joyed again, after many years, those songs by the likes of the late, great Vestal Goodman. Thank you again and as always for sharing your heart; it is, as it turns out: our Heart.

  10. Ed

    I’m so sorry Shawn and can’t even imagine what you’ve gone through.

    I keep coming back to “God with us” being a promise that God is present with us in our pain and in our joy. I wish I understood better what that means in a situation like this.


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